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ASMS Prepares for a Stampede of Proteomics Researchers, and Vendors Hope for Bonanza


The annual American Society for Mass Spectrometry meeting used to be the realm of physicists and chemical analysis. In recent years, however, protein mass spectrometrists have started creeping into the club, and at this year’s 50th ASMS meeting in Orlando that trend shows no signs of abating.

“We definitely have to schedule the largest rooms for [proteomics talks],” said Catherine Costello, a biochemist and director of the mass spectrometry facility at the Boston University School of Medicine, who will become ASMS president after this year’s meeting.

“The increase in attendance at the meeting has been growing at a faster rate over the last few years than it [used to]. It seems a large part of the new people coming are getting involved in mass spec for proteomics, and that coincides with a burst in
instrument sales in that quarter.”

And instrument manufacturers have taken that to heart. In Orlando, at least three vendors are releasing new versions of mass spectrometers designed for applications in proteomics. A few of the highlights — as of press time — are described below:



Beating to the punch Shimadzu and Thermo Finnigan, who are also planning to release hybrid ion trap instruments, Applied Biosystems and its partner MDS Sciex are unveiling a hybrid triple quadrupole ion trap mass spectrometer at this year’s ASMS.

The new Q TRAP LC/MS/MS instrument is designed to identify both proteins and peptides, as well as small molecule drug metabolites, in a bid to reach researchers involved directly with drug discovery and development.

Scientists at MDS Sciex in Toronto originally developed the linear hybrid technology designed to accommodate the ion trap and triple quadrupole components, and published details in the March 30 issue of Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry.

But for the last eight months the only researchers with access to the technology have been ABI’s early access partners at Millennium Pharmaceuticals, the University of Geneva, MDS Proteomics, MDS Pharma Services, and Advion BioSciences. The system will be on exhibit at ASMS at the ABI booth.


Agilent Technologies

Seeking to improve its limited penetration into the field of protein mass spectrometry, Agilent is releasing a nanoflow liquid chromatograph/ion trap mass spectrometer at this year’s ASMS meeting, as well as a new atmospheric pressure MALDI source for its 1100 series LC/MSD Trap SL ion trap mass spectrometer.

The new LC/MS/MS system, dubbed the Nanoflow Proteomics Solution, contains integrated column switching valves and analytical columns designed for automated desalting and enrichment of in-gel digests at nanoliter flow rates, the company said. In addition, the nanoflow pump offers active-feedback control, providing more stable and accurate flow control over passive splitting. Agilent claims the instrument can achieve low femtomole sensitivity, and the data output is compatible with the Mascot protein database search program from Matrix Science. Prices start at $260,000 and shipments will begin in late summer, the company said.

Developed in collaboration with MassTech, of Burtonsville, Md., Agilent is also releasing an AP-MALDI source for use with its 1100 series LC/MSD Trap SL ion traps. The 96-well sample plates uses Agilent’s standard ion source mounting system, and will sell for approximately $65,000. Shipments are expected in early fall, 2002.



Although Micromass announced in late April that it had begun shipping redesigned high-end electrospray Q-TOF mass spectrometers, the company is taking the opportunity at ASMS to further publicize its re-entry into the market it once dominated. In March, Micromass was forced to withdraw its high-end Q-TOF mass spectrometers — including the Q-TOF Global, Q-TOF API, and Q-TOF MALDI instruments — from the US market as a result of a jury ruling finding it in violation of an ABI/MDS Sciex patent. The Q-TOF API, now dubbed the Q-TOF API-US, is currently available, but customers will have to wait at least until later this summer before shipments of the Global and MALDI versions of the instrument resume.

In March, Waters executives admitted that the changes necessary to bring the Q-TOF Ultima line of mass spectrometers into compliance with the patent restrictions would be likely to reduce the performance of the instrument, but they did not provide specifics on the reduction in sensitivity, in part because they said the re-engineered instruments would contain technical improvements from the Q-TOF Ultima product line not affected by the patent dispute. “It’s difficult to quantify the performance loss,” Douglas Berthiaume, Waters’ CEO, said at the time. “The Q-TOF Ultima has other improvements so we don’t know where we’ll land.”


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